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Movie Reviews

A Pornographic Affair  

A Pornographic Affair is a recent French movie about a very unorthodox (for a movie) relationship. Two people (Nathilie Baye and Sergi Lopez) meet through a personals ad from a sex magazine. She placed the ad in hopes that the respondent will help her fulfill a fantasy. He responds to the ad, and they meet one day at a restaurant, before fulfilling their fantasy in a hotel room. This is not a one-night-stand, however, as the two meet every week in the same place for the same act. And, as they spend more time with each other, other emotions come in to play that are too much for mere fantasy. The movie is told in flashback, with the two characters relating their short relationship to an off-screen listener.
A Pornographic Affair is a very interesting movie. It is certainly not a dirty movie in any typical sense, and is sexy in a sophisticated way, as opposed to the kind of sexiness one may find in a Russ Meyer film. Those who expect a wild, American-style soft-core will probably be disappointed for the most part: most of the movie is talk, and the fantasy that these two people enjoy is not shown, or even discussed. The only hints we get are when the two walk out of the hotel room, laughing at how they'll be stiff in the morning. This tantalizing hint is enough for we dirty minds to imagine all sorts of possible acts. . . .

The film does not feel dirty - it feels almost romantic. If they were doing anything other than a sordid sexual act, we would be watching a romance. It's not as if these two people are abnormal, or bizarre outside of their sexual fantasy; they are very affectionate with one another, and seem like nice folk. In any other context, their affection, which grows to a deeper attraction and love, would seem quite a normal progression. So the movie is romantic, but at the same time, it is not unreal. After all, these people did meet for the purposes of acting out a crazy sexual encounter. Some people probably believe that people who engage in no-strings-attached sex are devoid of morality, because there is no "love". Of course, they don't define what "love" is, and while they say it, naturally assume that love - or healthy feelings - could not grow. At the same time, there are people on the other side of the spectrum who believe that it would be great to just have sex without all that lovey-dovey stuff. This movie blows apart both of those theories. Two people, no matter what they do, can not avoid the inevitable. Feelings, emotions - of any sort - will kick in, unexpectedly.

In the case of the two main characters, the dynamic begins immediately, as they discuss their expectations of what the other would look like, leading to a funny story from the woman about a long ago wish to be with a hairy man! We don't think of it at first, but, of course, as in any other romance, these two are getting to know each other, and by willing to meet every week, they also get to talk more with each other before and after the act. He says to the off-screen person that he got used to her; he started seeing her faults, and got used to that too. And during the relationship, she tells him that he is a really decent person, and that he was more than she expected.

Later, as in many relationship movies, they make love....... so what do you call the sex acts they did before?? But the fantasy is different from a "normal" sex act; here they are actually intimate, vulnerable. They are not playing a game, or at least, it doesn't seem like a game. The problem is that the whole point of their relationship is to satisfy a kink, not to become lovers. They don't even know each other's names or any other part of each other's lives (shades of Last Tango in Paris), but their need to keep things anonymous is threatened by their feelings toward each other. And the rest of the movie details that battle between detached fantasy and fragile emotions.
Like I said, this movie shows that relationships - any relationship - between a man and a woman will involve some sort of emotions, like affection, or love, or even just the need to be with another person. Now, I don't engage in any of these sordid, kinky sexual fantasies, but I do know all about fooling around and the complications that arise afterwards (I've had my own little Internet personal ad adventure!) - so, oddly enough, I can relate to this movie.

Some of the film is awkward, mainly the use of the off-screen interviewer, which allows for the reflection of the two characters which would not be able to occur if the movie had been a typical narrative. But the purpose of the movie is to show these two people and their strange affair, and it is all good stuff (as my eccentric but beautiful friend would say). The two actors are restrained, and they'd have to be, because part of the tension is in if they can keep their emotions reined in and continue with the fantasy. It is not until the last portion of the film where the emotions ever so slightly take over, allowing the actors to exhibit more emotion. Nathile Baye is certainly interesting to me: she is obviously an older woman, but just like my impression of Susan Sarandon, she is quite attractive in her maturity, although in a more quiet, restrained way. Baye actually looks like the kind of woman who is open-minded and wise at the same time.

The movie is sexy in a sophisticated, beautiful way. There are really only two steamy scenes, including the scene where they first make love "normally". For me, it has to be one of the best sex scenes ever, because it seems real. The two don't just fool around; they even talk while they're fooling around. Basically, they have an intimate experience together.

Possibly the funniest part of the movie is its title. In Europe and the rest of the world, including here in Canada, the film is called A Pornographic Affair. But in the U.S., Fine Line Features renamed it An Affair of Love, as if the original title would have brought in numerous hardcore fans, who'd be dismayed to be watching a French film. Neither title is completely accurate. An Affair of Love sounds like a bland love story; A Pornographic Affair sounds like a sleazy, exploitative film.

This is one strange and nice little movie. It tells its story with warmth, and, even though you don't know everything about the characters, you feel for them, and you do want to know more. And, in its own weird way, the ending of A Pornographic Affair is almost as painful as any other movie about lovers who must part (like Casablanca, maybe!). But in a quiet, subtle, French kind of way, of course.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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